Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bradley and Ching, a winning pair

Victor Decolongon/GettyImages

It's no secret that this week can be a crucial one for the United States men. The opportunity to make the rest of the year an easier one exists, as well as, unfortunately, the exact opposite.

Team America play at Costa Rica on the painted over runway strip that is Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Wednesday night and then come home after just under three days of rest to take on Honduras at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday. (BTW, Rico Clark got added to the team today to replace the injured Frankie Hejduk. Read that here.)

As Jeff Carlisle points out (in a great ESPN Soccernet piece here), the compressed World Cup qualification schedule is a result of the fact the US will play in the Confederations Cup in South Africa this summer. Carlisle's piece analyzes the difficulty faced by the team very well. Hot weather and a tough team in Costa Rica, followed by a trip of several thousand miles and then a rested and ready team that would like nothing more that to escape Chicago with at least a point. It's a tough challenge, and it requires a mentally tough and focused squad.

And this is where I come to praise a certain Princeton and Ohio University alumnus named Bob (don't call me Robert) Bradley. Whatever you might think of Bradley's in-game tactics, the one thing I have noticed about the man is that he continually has the team focused and ready to play (the draw in El Salvador earlier this year notwithstanding) over a wide variety of conditions. That team and organization is focused on both near and long term goals, near being occupying and maintaining the position of top dog in CONCACAF (mission accomplished and continuing) and long being success in the World Cup (talk to me in August 2010 about this one). Here's a great quote from one Mr. Brian Ching:

"We're an extremely talented team, and I think Bob has done a great job of instilling his work ethic and his tough mentality into the team," added Ching. "So regardless of who we put on the field, we know our roles and we're going to make it difficult to break us down and we're going to create chances going forward."

It's that winning attitude, that expectation to fight and fight and fight some more, that was clearly lacking under Bruce Arena, Steve Sampson, Bora, you name it. And if you had to pick a reason to pimp the good qualities of the Americans, start here.

And that brings up the topic of our own national teamer, Brian Ching. In another Soccernet piece by Kristian Dyer (read that one here), the point is made about how many people diminish the talents and skills of the Flyin' Hawaiian with evident relish. Dyer speaks both to Dominic Kinnear and Ching about this topic and both are very clear and to the point about how ridiculous the notion is. Here's The Dom:

"His strike rate is pretty incredible," said Kinnear, who compares Ching favorably with former national team striker Brian McBride. "Sometimes I troll the message boards a bit -- I don't make a habit of it too much -- and I am surprised by what these people have to say. I don't think most of them could coach any soccer team, judging from what they have to say. I laugh because these fans don't get the chance to see a player every day."

And that last point is a crucial one. None of us are at practice every day, see the players and their work when the lights are off and observe a continuum from there to when the lights are on. As any scout will tell you, this perspective is absolutely essential. We get to see Ching Kong every week in Dynaland and appreciate our incredible good fortune, but even we don;t know his true value. The guy just brings it night after night after night. Here's a great quote from Gonzalo Segares in the Dyer article:

"I know I will be sore the next day," Segares said. "I will be limping and bruised."

Dyer compares Ching to Brian McBride and I would definitely link to that iconic moment of McBride walking off bloody in the US/Italy game from 2006. We've seen that same scene from Ching as recently as against San Jose, and again last year at least once. The two Brians are linked more than just in name, that is true.

And looping back to the Bradley points above, it's hard to imagine a player more suited to that tough as nails, win, win, win approach that Bradley has instilled in the Snakes. Or as Ching himself says:

"I think what Bob has brought to the team is a shake-up of attitude," Ching said. "Personally, I thought that some players got to comfortable under [former U.S. national team coach] Bruce [Arena]. Not knocking anyone, but when players know that they are going to play regardless of how they perform, it's natural for some to not perform at their best.

"Bob has done a good job of having a focus for the team and always reminding us of it and pushing us towards it."

So Wednesday and Saturday, let's just win boys, and bruise and bleed to qualification. As we all know, Chingy will.

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